Should I Watch..? 'The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug' (2013)
What's the big deal?
The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug is an epic action fantasy adventure film released in 2013 and is the second part of director Peter Jackson's trilogy The Hobbit, itself a prequel to Jackson's earlier The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. The film sees Bilbo Baggins continue his quest alongside the dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and their homeland from the dragon Smaug while the wizard Gandalf the Grey investigates a possible necromancer at the ruins of Dol Guldur. The ensemble cast includes Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Stott and Luke Evans. Filming concurrently with the other two films in the trilogy, The Desolation Of Smaug was released to a more positive reception than the previous instalment An Unexpected Journey and ended up earning over $958 million worldwide, making it one of the most successful films of all time.
What's it about?
Continuing on from the previous film, Thorin and his company of adventurous dwarves are being pursued by the orc Azog the Defiler and his troops when Gandalf ushers them to relative safety at the house of Beorn, a shape-changer who adopts the guise of a massive bear. Azog is then summoned back to Dol Guldur by his master, allowing his son Bolg to continue the pursuit. The next day, Gandalf takes Thorin's company to the edges of Mirkwood and makes a worrying discovery. Telling Thorin to stick to the path, Gandalf heads off to convene with fellow wizard Radagast the Brown.
Entering the forest, Thorin's company quickly fall victim to a pack of giant spiders who ensnare them all in vast webs. Bilbo manages to escape and using his ring of invisibility, manages to free the others before they all flee. Chased by the surviving creatures, they are saved after accidentally stumbling into a group of Elves led by Legolas and Tauriel, head of the Mirkwood Elven Guard. But their saviours aren't as friendly as they supposed while Bolg and the other orcs aren't that far behind either...
What's to like?
I was rather unimpressed with An Unexpected Journey besides enjoying the beautiful New Zealand scenary so I'm delighted to say that part two is a return to form. As always, the film is stunning to watch with sweeping aerial shots, imaginative action sequences and the big reveal of Smaug himself, a CG creation with all the life and realism that Gollum possesses. A lot more of the film is taken up with action sequences than before including an exciting pursuit along a river with the dwarves in barrels, orcs running along the bank and Bloom and Lilly firing arrows from the trees. I do realise that such a scene doesn't occur in the book but I'll address this in a minute.
The cast once again excel themselves with Freeman in particular coming into his own a bit more as Bilbo, his growing confidence becoming more evident now that he has the One Ring in his pocket. As for the newcomers, Lilly makes an impression as Tauriel (a character created specifically for the film) while Cumberbatch almost steals the show from his Sherlock co-star as Smaug. The film is exciting and well-paced and leads into the final film well, especially on a potentially apocalyptic cliffhanger.
- The roles of Bard's two daughters Sigrid and Tilda are played by Peggy and Mary Nesbitt, the real-life daughters of James Nesbitt who plays Bofur. Sadly, there don't share any screen time together.
- Five of the trilogy's cast members have been involved in production featuring Sherlock Holmes - Cumberbatch and Freeman play the leads in the TV series Sherlock, McKellen plays Holmes in Mr Holmes in 2015, Christopher Lee played Sir Henry Baskerville in The Hound Of The Baskervilles and Stephen Fry played Sherlock's brother Mycroft in Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows.
- Jackson, who hates fish, got a perverse pleasure burying his actors under real dead fish. Adam Brown, who plays Ori, had 400 lbs of fish on top of him at one point and had to fight his own phobia while the fish were removed, one at a time, by hand.
What's not to like?
At the risk of sounding like a Tolkien-nut, I do feel that I have to point out the various inconsistencies with the book. Legolas, for example, never appears in the original story and the film takes great liberties padding itself out with needless detail and scenes which are mere filler. This might not be a problem if you haven't read the book but for someone who has, the film does like to take its sweet time. By deviating so much from the book, it almost feels as though the films are heading in a different direction altogether in the same way that the Jason Bourne movies are nothing like Robert Ludlum's original novels.
As good as the CG is with Smaug (the CG is a big improvement over the first film, generally speaking), there are still times when it distracts. Take the aforementioned barrel run along the river - such a sequence would be impossible to shoot without CG and with so much going on, it's easy to lose track of what precisely is happening. Regardless of the frame-rate or your fancy HD TV screen that cost too much, you are going to lose some of the overall impact the film should have made. Some of the dwarves also don't look as natural as some of the other characters (Fry as the Master of Lake-Town isn't as well disguised as he might be) and due to the fact that there is still a third film after this - The Battle Of The Five Armies - don't expect any sort of conclusion to the film.
Should I watch it?
The Desolation Of Smaug is a definite improvement over An Unexpected Journey but still falls short of Jackson's earlier trilogy. However, this film is an enjoyable trip back to Middle-Earth with everything fans of the series have come to expect plus Cumberbatch's blistering performance as Smaug, the first genuinely realistic CG character since... well, Gollum in The Lord Of The Rings. It might be a bridge between parts one and three but it would be a real shame to miss out on this.
Great For: fans of Middle-Earth, female fans wanting patiently for Bloom's reappearance, fantasy lovers, cos-players
Not So Great For: arachnophobics, people who don't "do fantasy"
What else should I watch?
The first part of the trilogy An Unexpected Journey was even more bloated with extraneous details that it became boring. The CG wasn't as good as it was here and the cameos from the likes of Christopher Lee and Cate Blanchett felt like box-ticking on behalf of the fans. I'm hoping that The Battle Of The Five Armies concentrates as much on story as it does on CG-enhanced action scenes but I'm not holding my breath.
Other than an enormous payday, I don't understand Peter Jackson's motivation for returning to Middle-Earth. All three films in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy - The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Two Towers and The Return Of The King - were all fabulous films in their own right and combined, they are unsurpassed in terms of story-telling, characterisation, excitement and brilliance. Did Jackson honestly think he could do better because I know I had my doubts and I haven't seen anything in The Hobbit to make me change my mind just yet.
Gandalf The Grey
Bard The Bowman
Master of Lake-Town
Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro *
Release Date (UK)
13th December, 2013
Academy Award Nominations
Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing
© 2017 Benjamin Cox